From Singapore to London: An SMU Alumnus’ Adventure in Strategic Planning

By Jeremy Ho, BBM, Class of 2013, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business

It has been quite a journey and a good time to reflect on what has transpired over the past 5 months as I am typing this mid-flight, heading towards Heathrow airport.

As a Strategic Planner in training we’re always thought to think laterally, to make connections that one would not typically make, all in the name of finding the best approach for our clients to speak to consumers.

Planners are traditionally only responsible for being close to the consumer insight in the process of developing advertising. Modern day planners, however, are expected to have a nimble brain looking beyond consumers, capable of discussing business and marketing strategy with clients, as well as research methodologies with research teams. We’re also required to be on top of cultural trends, able to write air-tight briefing documents with inspirational flair, and wax philosophical about aspects of humanity—the list goes on. Planning is a critical part of the marketing communications process to make advertising better and more effective, and planners build confidence to swim in an ocean of ambiguity before coming to an informed approach.

We definitely have star planners and strategists in Singapore to aspire to. But their road to strategic excellence is not without failures and mistakes; learning through practice. And as I write this post on the plane heading to London to begin the second phase of my training, I can’t help but skip a little in my seat.


London is the birthplace of the planning discipline and BBH is known industry-wide to have the sharpest and most astute minds in planning. The agency is built upon a deep respect for strategic thinking which then translates into creative brilliance. To have the opportunity to jet off for 9 months to London in a first job is, to my knowledge, unprecedented for most fresh graduates. I am humbly fortunate to have this kind of exposure and training ground to kick-off my career in advertising.

It was 2 months till the end of the semester and with bills to pay and a career to develop—not to mention being spurred into action by the frequent reminders to land a job as quickly as possible post-graduation—I was frantically sending out CVs. I was then, through a random string of events, linked to the EDB-BBH International Strategy Scholarship (ISS). It began in September and I was seriously considering if it was too risky to wait for 4 months and if I should instead accept one of the other job offers. But as the old adage goes, great things are worth the wait. And I did wait, with no official work contract signed to my name, for the entire summer.

Jeremy (middle) with his fellow EDB-BBH International Strategy Scholarship recipients.

Jeremy (middle) with his fellow EDB-BBH International Strategy Scholarship recipients.

All I can say is that it was well worth it. The opportunities I got to sink my teeth into, including exciting local and regional assignments for brands like Chupa Chups, Dutch Lady, LTA and Vaseline, really set the tone for my planning journey. And I’m glad it’s shiny.

Life in SMU prepared me for the industry. Agency work is project based and not unlike the school calendar in SMU; I could be talking about confectionery one morning and land transport that very afternoon. The pedagogy certainly gave me an edge in being comfortable with the dynamics of team work. I like to jokingly refer to planners as the powerpoint rangers in the agency. We present research, competitor reviews, data digests, strategic territories, campaign ecosystems, and so on.

I remember distinctly, Week 1 Day 1 of freshman year, when the professor teaching Technology and World Change made all of us go out of the class in groups for 45 minutes to develop a presentation—one which we had to share immediately with the rest of the class upon returning. There was no turning back after that nerve-wrecking experience. Most people will tell you that what you learn in school will only be 10% applicable to working life. That may be true for the hard-skills in the strategic planning discipline, but the SMU environment has imbued me the soft skills and confidence needed to deliver whilst working in the dynamic and free-flowing environment of advertising.

My journey in planning over the past 5 months was filled with a fair share of late nights as I worked arduously on presentations which would never see the light of day. Reality check #1: only about 10-20% of what you do as a junior planner goes into the final client presentation. And if you are lucky enough to work with a smaller, more nimble team, you will see more of your work go live. Though not without at least 15 rounds of revisions. Reality check #2: what takes a 3rd year planner 10 hours to do, it takes you 30. So put in the time.

But what’s truly great about this programme is that it is on high-speed rails. You are, in fact, contractually obliged to receive training from management and other sources according to a training plan. That type of exposure to key individuals who can provide advice and help you develop expertise is invaluable.

And, of course, the BBH Singapore culture. There’s no truer representation of Work Hard, Play Hard. If you want to see it for yourself, head down to Alchemy bar at Central Mall on Fridays at 6pm.

Hard at work on Halloween.

Hard at work on Halloween.

Even though BBH Singapore is the APAC headquarters, it runs like a mid-sized agency. This means that the hierarchy is very flat, management takes great care of everyone and you are rarely cast into the shadows. It’s not uncommon to share a drink or walk up to the Head of Planning or Chairman of Asia with a question in mind and get a solid answer. It’s an environment where everyone has a right to speak up and be heard.

The cabin lights just came on and food is being served and I will leave you with one last note till my next post when I am properly settled in BBH London: Find out about the industry that you are interested in. And if you can imagine waking up excited every morning to take on the work waiting for you at the office, that’s the right job.

2 thoughts on “From Singapore to London: An SMU Alumnus’ Adventure in Strategic Planning

  1. Ameer Joshua

    This is a good read Jeremy. Well done and i hope you will have a fruitful time in London. Take care !

  2. John Yeo

    Hey Jeremy , you really did a great job to write this wonderful information. I really appreciate your words “But their road to strategic excellence is not without failures and mistakes; learning through practice. ” Keep sharing this type of useful information. All the best..

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